Wargaming the Exploration and Colonisation of Tropical Africa by European powers from 1850 until 1918.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Music to paint by: Mountains of the Moon soundtrack by Michael Small

I like to (have to!) paint to music and prefer to have something vaguely appropriate playing in the background. I'm having a bit of an Africa phase at present and so have been struggling to find enough relevant music.

I had a few pieces, the Zulu soundtrack of course (with the addition of the extra pieces from the Silva Screen version-I am nothing if not a completist!) and Out of Africa both by John Barry, but neither are particularly African sounding.

Some of the incidental music from Hatari, by Henri Mancini and some of Laurence Rosenthal's music for one of the Young Indiana Jones episodes was much better.

I also have some genuine Zulu music and other African chants but, rather like bagpipe music, there is only so much of it you can listen to at a time!

I was delighted, therefore, after a long search, to find a copy of the Mountains of the Moon soundtrack on the internet from a UK seller (rather than one of those dodgy bulk sellers from the US you find on Amazon). Mountains of the Moon is the ultimate Darkest Africa film and I am sure Mark Copplestone knows it well!

The film itself is based on William Harrison's superb (although somewhat controversial) novel Burton and Speke (1982) which is, rather surprisingly, currently out of print. The novel is based itself on Sir Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke's accounts of their attempts to discover the source of the Nile. Harrison, (who also wrote the original short story and the subsequent screenplay for the film Rollerball) himself co-wrote the screenplay with director Bob Rafelson, for whom it was a very personal project.

Its not Zanzibar but this is what it must have looked like at the time

I actually didn't see the film until after I had started buying the Foundry figures and reading some of the original accounts of African exploration. I was amazed at how well the film visualised these accounts.

Burton and Speke's prototypical explorers camp. Watch out for Somali tribesmen!

For the soundtrack to his film Rafelson turned to a composer he had used before; New York born Michael Small. Small had scored two steamy Rafelson thrillers; The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) and Black Widow (1987). I remember taking a girlfriend to the former as a first date and it certainly had the desired effect on her; with a lot of the credit going to Small's sensuous music!

Sidi Bombay (with rather better teeth than the original)

Small was born in 1939 the son of an actor who instilled a love for musical theatre in him. Whilst Small learnt the piano and started to write for student reviews he actually studied English at Harvard and didn't study music formally until after university.

Classic Darkest Africa expedition with required baggage elements

After some TV work Small scored his first feature film in 1969 his breakthrough coming with the score for the Jane Fonda film Klute (1971). He then wrote the soundtracks for a number of well-known films including: Comes a Horseman (1978), Marathon Man (1976) and The Stepford Wives (1975). He also provided music to some of the worst films ever resulting in the situation where his scores were very much the best thing in them. In this illustrious category comes Jaws: the Revenge (1987) and Wagons East (1994).


Smalls score for Mountains of the Mood mixes some memorable sweeping themes, urgent action cues and ethnic music which draws on some recordings made by David Fanshawe. It really is the perfect music to listen to when painting Darkest Africa figures and I have already based up John Hanning Speke and Richard Burton to work on when I get back to the UK.

Its a shame Mark Copplestone never did any Arabs on camels

The film itself is a must see if you haven't already. Filmed in Kenya, rather than the original locations (which are now in Tanzania), if it doesn't make you want to buy loads of Foundry Darkest Africa figures nothing will!